A fiery speech made by former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock and targeted at current leader Jeremy Corbyn has been leaked to the media.
Long considered a powerful orator, Kinnock, who lost two general elections as leader, delivered his tirade with trademark passion and much table-thumping at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Despite the fact that Corbyn was elected party leader less than a year ago with an astonishing mandate from the membership – within which he still retains tremendous levels of support – Kinnock appears to doubt that Corbyn’s movement does and can ever hope to reflect the mood of the wider electorate.
Using dubious anecdotal evidence of a conversation he had with a voter whilst canvassing in Cardiff, Kinnock describes the fact that the man had referred to Corbyn as ‘weird’ as proof that the MP for Islington North is unelectable.
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This cursory judgement, though, surely just shows how years of personality politics have turned people off. Political speech has been assiduously vetted and conveyed via a conglomeration of PR departments, media editors and spin doctors. With insincerity perceived as endemic amongst politicians, people have been driven to total apathy and disengagement.
Kinnock also states the obvious fact that Corbyn does not have the support of the PLP, and as such cannot hope to achieve parliamentary socialism, as it’s ‘…crucial to have a leader that enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party’.
Yet why should Corbyn concede to them? Is it not incumbent on the members of the PLP to put aside their own doubts and support the membership’s choice of leader as a route towards parliamentary democratic socialism? Kinnock’s point doesn’t negate the fact that the disloyalty of much of the PLP is what is hindering Labour right now – not its leader. If the end-goal is the same, the PLP must respect the will of the majority and accept membership’s plan as to how it will be achieved. Otherwise, Kinnock must abandon the notion that he and his allies in the PLP aspire to parliamentary socialism, as they seek to undermine the most fundamental democratic ideal that underpins socialism itself.
Kinnock seems to portray Corbyn as a dangerous revolutionary, who deviates ideologically from the Labour party’s commitment to pursuing a parliamentary route to socialism. How he has arrived at this conclusion is unclear, as Corbyn has never done anything other than fight to achieve this since his election as an MP in 1983, and has, on many occasions, publicly described himself as a democratic socialist.
Similarly, Kinnock questions the popular narrative surrounding Corbyn’s election.
I don’t know what case is being made by saying that – and I quote – ‘Jeremy had the biggest majority in history’ – he didn’t. In 1988 – in a different electoral system, admittedly – my majority against Tony Benn was 88.6%. Tony got 11.4%…
Whilst Corbyn’s 40.5% majority was larger than that achieved by Tony Blair in 1994, it seems that Kinnock has confused the concept of ‘majority’ with ‘mandate’. Whilst there is no doubt that he beat Benn by a landslide in 1988, Corbyn’s mandate was far wider, as Corbyn received almost 60% of the more than 400,000 votes which were cast.
However, Kinnock fails to acknowledge several factors which differentiate his election wins from Corbyn’s. The same union backing that Kinnock heavily relied upon to shore up his leadership is currently being enjoyed by the present leader, who retains the support of Britain’s 10 largest trade unions. Only this week Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Britain’s biggest union, Unite, criticised the actions of Miliband, Brown, Blair and Kinnock – decrying ‘former leaders… (being) dragged out to be part of an unedifying coup’.
Any group that can organise and encourage members to vote the same way still constitutes a formidable force in British politics. However, the unions are significantly less powerful than they were in the 1980s, and the support of the PLP – which Kinnock retained – was critical to his victory. However, the previous three-way ‘electoral college’ system, which gave ‘equal weight to member, parliamentarian and the trade union and affiliated societies sections’ was replaced by Ed Miliband in 2014 by a new rule-change which allowed party leaders to be elected by ‘members and registered and affiliated supporters’. This move was what led to Corbyn’s election, furthering the democratisation of the party. This is the ‘one member one vote’ system. Yet Kinnock seems to claim in his speech that this was what he fought to achieve in the 1980’s:
We worked like hell… [to] make sure that the rank and file would have a direct voice, that trade unions would be part of it, councils would be part of it, activists would be part of it, so we got one member one vote.
The approach which Kinnock describes having fought for is actually the previous three-way ‘electoral college’ system which moved away from the earlier situation in which the leader was elected only by the PLP.
Nevertheless, fearing not being able to prevent Corbyn being on the ballot paper in a new leadership challenge, a confused Kinnock ironically seeks to exploit the very mechanism that Miliband introduced and which made Corbyn leader:
Another massively significant point is that the 1988 internal conflict in the Labour party came at a time in which the right-wing was relatively strong and the mood of the country different. Thatcher had won the previous years’ general election with a 102 seat majority, and had the support of the influential media establishment.
Now, almost thirty years later and post-referendum, the environment is greatly altered. The stranglehold of the right-wing press is waning as the advent of the internet has enabled the proliferation of information. The public are sick of consecutive governments inflicting a deadly combination of privatisation, austerity, submission to the financial sector, foreign interventions and ideologically-driven callous individualist politics. Post-industrialised communities particularly in the North of England, Wales and Scotland have been marginalized, devastated by stagnant wages and a spiralling cost of living, zero-hours contracts, a lack of social housing and an inability to get on the property ladder. There is a burning anger across the country. Throw into the mix the general instability within the Conservative party, and it becomes clear that now is the perfect time for Labour to present a compassionate left-wing vision to benefit the communities most affected by these conditions. Yet Kinnock seems unable to see this.
The former leader’s true thoughts on the democratisation of the democratic socialist party he loves becomes clear at the end of his invective.
To assert that Labour belongs exclusively to him and his cronies is to miss the entire point of its existence. Like it or not, Labour is the preserve of many – the unions, the working classes, students, the ‘hard’ left and centrists, environmentalists, feminists, the LGBT community, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Atheists.
The minute that Labour abandons inclusivity it should just give up. Or maybe it should split. On that, the jury is still out.